We continue to say, ‘yes’ to a comprehensive and pro-poor reproductive health bill and ‘no’ to population control.” – GWP Rep. Emmi de Jesus
By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines has charged the Gabriela Women’s Party of allegedly admitting that that the Reproductive Health (RH) bill pending in both chambers of Congress, is “ neither pro-poor nor pro-women.”
In a report posted on the official CBCP website last February 20, the CBCP said that Gabriela has made the admission in a note on its own Facebook page. It referred to a note made by Gabriela declaring that “the RH bill cannot be genuinely pro-poor and pro-women for as long as it espouses population control, which blames poverty on women’s bodies, fertility and population.”
The somewhat misleading news story has prompted Gabriela Rep. Emmi de Jesus to call on the CBCP to “stop bearing false witness against women’s health.”
“GWP believes that House Bill 4244, popularly known as the RH Bill, has made positive strides for women. Gabriela Women’s Party has successfully included in the consolidated bill substantive provisions from its own bill, HB 3387. Among these are reproductive health care programs and services throughout one’s life cycle, services to address breast and reproductive tract cancers, and protection against chemicals injurious to working women,” De Jesus said.
According to de Jesus, her group also lobbies for prenatal leaves for women workers and pro-bono services especially for low-income and indigent pregnant women, as stated in the RH bill.
“On top of this, population or demographic targets were thrown out of the bill, and desired family size was made neither mandatory nor compulsory,” she said. “We need to remind CBCP not to distort the truth in its campaign against the RH bill. While it is true that GWP has consistently opposed the population control agenda, it does not mean that the GWP stands beside the Catholic Church hierarchy in blocking the passage of a legislation that calls for the promotion of women’s right to health.”
De Jesus said it is the duty of the GWP, who represents the Filipina constituency, to continue to oppose the three remaining provisions in HB 4244 that promote population control, namely – sections 3(l), 12, and 25.
“These provisions must be deleted in the RH bill. Otherwise, the long saga of blaming women’s wombs for the rising poverty in the country continues. This wrong notion is made to persist while government and big business interests escape responsibility for the poverty they have caused this country for decades, and the ailing Philippine health system that the government has turned its back on,” she said.
“We are committed to take population control out of the RH bill. We will work to contribute to the further refinement of the current version of the RH bill into a genuinely pro-poor, pro-women piece of legislation. We continue to say, ‘yes’ to a comprehensive and pro-poor reproductive health bill and ‘no’ to population control” she said.
Church openness to RH bill debates welcome
For her part, GWP Rep. Luz Ilagan still welcomed the Catholic church leaders’ renewed openness to participate in the RH debates.
“More and more sectors, including the Catholic church now realize the urgency of making healthcare accessible to women especially amid the reported increase in maternal deaths.”
The Department of Health recently reported that 50 maternal deaths were recorded in Metro Manila in January alone.
“This prompts us to resume deliberations and pass the RH bill without delay,” Ilagan said. “We are hopeful that their input in the debates will help legislators craft a reproductive health policy that will genuinely be pro-poor. Marginalized women would certainly welcome efforts to ensure that the government’s RH policy will primarily focus on giving women and children full access to healthcare services instead of giving emphasis on the distribution of contraceptives, imposition of fertility targets and population control.”
In direct response to the CBCP story on the RH bill and GWP’s reported admission regarding its flaws, Ilagan explained that it is true that RH bill cannot be genuinely pro-poor and pro-women for as long as it espouses population control, which blames poverty on women’s bodies, fertility and population.
“Women, especially those in poor, far-flung communities need access to reproductive health care services ranging from maternal care, pre-natal and post-natal care as well as menopausal care that go beyond the distribution of contraceptives and population control mechanisms,” she said.